Distilled Mug Art



The god is going down now
Red cup growing on desk
Burnt on digital
More widening
Whilst the engineers
Trying to pick up bits left and top of screen
Whilst they are amusing themselves
Trying to make politicians or actors look funny or better
According to their present or ingrained past beliefs
Good idea for war history programme
Torn off bits of pictures of barbed wire
Distilled mug art
Digital distilled altered art
Distilled cut off screen
Digital'd by mugs
Distilling mugs
Alter top of heads and make them nasty-like
Put in a paper or CD cover
And give the folks mumps to order with their apple shape
Distilled to order
Faces distilled to order
Digital mug art


1. This is a song about the digital manipulation of images. The Story of the Fall calls it a "tirade against computer manipulation of faces," and there seems to be some truth to this, but I am hesitant to swallow this interpretation whole. For one thing, on close inspection, MES rarely does tirades; there is usually far too much ambiguity in a Fall lyric to qualify as a tirade. Of course, "Trying to make politicians or actors look funny or better/ According to their present or ingrained past beliefs" does not come within miles of anything one can imagine MES getting behind. But aside from this line, there isn't much to go on in the lyrics that would give us a sense of a normative stance. The opening line, "The god is going down now," is reminiscent of Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility," an essay in which the author is concerned with the dissipation of an artwork's "aura" or charismatic presence as a result of the mass reproduction of art. For Benjamin, this enables a critical distance from the artwork that he sees as having liberatory potential. I don't know if MES had this essay in mind when he wrote this song--as far as he know, he has never mentioned Benjamin, so there's no particular reason to think he did--but I think it's more fruitful to take this song in a descriptive sense as occasioning a meditation on the effect of digital technology on art and representation rather than assuming it straightforwardly valorizes the sanctity of the image or anything of that sort.

The word "mug" suggests the coffee cups sold at art museums adorned with images like the Mona Lisa and "The Starry Night," an obvious example of the mass reproduction of artworks. At the same time, MES seems to be using it in the sense of a roguish or unsavory character, as well as the vernacular usage that means "face." He undoubtedly seems concerned at the feedback loop that results when representations of reality are instantly manipulable, mugs being manipulated by mugs who plaster them on mugs. At the same time, it seems like the main idea is to point to this phenomenon rather than to protest against it; the song brings something important to light, and rather than exhorting us to feel a certain way about it, MES chooses to work in a descriptive register.

A second vocal line shadows the lyrics printed above, but I can salvage nothing comprehensible from it.


Comments (1)

  • 1. dannyno | 28/08/2014
It's "Torn off bits of pictures of barbed wire", not "torn up".

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